Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion

INTRODUCING FR. FREDDIE'S GOSPEL REFLECTIONS

for Multi-purpose

1. These reflections are not written like an essay, but in six precise steps. Choose what you like.

2. They are not meant only for preaching homilies, but for a multi-purpose: for teaching, prayer (either personal or common), reflections and socio-pastoral guidance.

3. They can be used outside the liturgical celebrations also on any other occasions for preaching (by using the same text), private and common prayers, Bible Vigil, Adoration, Prayer Service, Gospel Sharing, conferences, talks, etc.

4. Only the Gospel text prescribed for the Sunday Liturgy in the Catholic Church is used for these reflections, and not the First and Second Readings. The latter are quoted only for reference. Those who want to include them, have to find their own applications.

5. These reflections are written from a pastoral and spiritual perspective, and not from academic or exegetical.

6. The preachers have an option to develop only the focus-statements given in Step 2 on their own into a full-fledged homily. If they want to make their homily shorter, they need not include all the points/thoughts written by the author; instead can select what they like, and (if they want) add their own stories/ anecdotes/ examples.

7. The title, “Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion” indicates the author’s intention to highlight the life-sustaining or life-saving issues in our world and society in the midst of anti-life forces.

8. Though much of the material presented in these reflections is author's, no claim is made for the originality of all the thoughts and ideas. They are adopted from various authors.

9. Reproduction of these reflections in any form needs prior permission.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

29th Sunday of Year B


Twenty-ninth Sunday of Year B [Mk 10:35-45]
21 October 2018
Ambitious and Power-crazy Apostles
Readings: (1) Is 53:10-11 (2) Heb 4:14-16
1.  Theme in brief
Christian understanding of power
2.  Focus Statement:   
Christian disciples are called to use their power and authority not for domination or “lording it over,” nor for exploitation, but for service to the point of making painful sacrifices as Jesus did.
3.  Explanation of the text
Today’s gospel tells us about two things: (1) the weakness that the Twelve apostles had for power, position and honour, and (2) Jesus’ views on the manner in which his disciples should use their power. The text shows how human the apostles were and how impure and ambitious their motives. They completely failed to understand the nature of Jesus’ Kingdom. They were still thinking of him as a political Messiah who would defeat the Romans and establish an earthly kingdom. James and John thought when he would become a king in the near future, they had a better claim to be his chief ministers for these reasons: (1) they belonged to his inner circle and were his close and trusted confidants; (2) he had picked them up to be with him when he raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead (Mk 5:21-43) and was transfigured before them (Mk 9:2-8); and (3) according to some scholars probably they were his cousins. They wanted to use the good offices of a close relative for their own promotion. They approached Jesus with the hope that he would do for them whatever they would ask of him (10:35).
When Jesus asked James and John about their greatest wish, they requested him to give them most important seats at his right and left hand (10:37) without knowing that soon there would be two criminals or thieves on his right and left side on the cross. Sitting at his right and left hand implied their wish to be his chief advisors. Jesus replied their ambitious question by challenging them whether they were willing to drink the cup of suffering he would drink, and take the baptism of blood he would take (10:38) – thus symbolically referring to his sacrificial death. In other words, he compared his approaching suffering and death to drinking a bitter cup and undergoing a baptism or immersion in blood. He was asking them whether they were willing to be immersed (or baptized) in his sacrificial death. They answered that they were able (10:39) without understanding that one day they themselves would have to drink the bitter cup of persecution for Jesus’ sake, or without knowing that one day they would run away when Jesus would be arrested (Mk 14:50). But Jesus told them plainly that the seats requested by them were reserved by his Father for those who were willing to share his passion and death (10:40). James and John seemed to have totally missed the point.
Naturally, the request of James and John must have created a deep resentment among the other ten. The other ten were no better than James and John. They too were claimants for higher posts. They too had similar ambitions and were quarrelling among themselves who would be the greatest among them (Mk 9:34). They must have thought that James and John had already got bigger posts which each one wanted for himself. Hence they were angry and jealous of those two (10:41). At this point, Jesus began to instruct them about his notion of power and authority.
According to worldly standards, greater the power, greater is the supremacy. In the world, one’s greatness is measured by how many people one controls; how much wealth one has; how much military power one possesses. Jesus showed those Gentile rulers as negative examples of how power should be used. They “lord it over them” and “tyrannize” them (10:42). By saying, “It should not be so among you” (10:43), he made it clear that the standards of worldly kingdom – to which they were so much attracted and attached – are totally different from his standards. According to him, a person does not become ‘great’ just because he has power and authority. In his kingdom, the ‘great’ person is the person who is willing to become a “servant” (10:43). As he repeated this principle, he used a more radical term and said that real greatness could be claimed only when a person was willing to become a “slave of all” (10:43).
Further, Jesus instructed them that he had come to give his life or give up his life in sacrifice as a ransom for many (10:45), which meant for all. In those days, ‘ransom’ was the amount of money paid to the master to buy the freedom of a slave. What Jesus meant was that he would pay the price of his own blood to redeem humankind. In other words, he redeemed humanity at the cost of his own life.  His death would be the ultimate proof of his sacrificial service for the redemption of many. He took upon himself the form of a servant and came not to be ministered to or to be waited upon, but to minister (serve) or to wait on others like a slave (10:45).
4.  Application to life                     
In all of us there is a desire for power and prestige. In today’s gospel, James and John are shown to be the ones who were hankering after power and the rest of the apostles are shown to be competing with them for the same. Like them, it is natural for many of us to feel ambitious for power– though quite often it is subconscious and hidden. In the world we notice a power struggle as well as abuse or misuse of power in various fields and states of life. In today’s text Jesus expresses his opposition to the abuse of power, because it was precisely the abuse of power by the Jewish religious authorities that resulted in his condemnation to death. Instead of nursing ambitions of power and position and using them only for ourselves, Jesus calls us to use that power for ministering to the needs of our neighbours. At the Last Supper he himself took the role of a slave when he washed his disciples’ feet (Jn 13:1-16). For him greatness consisted not in how many people will be at our service but how much can we serve others.
Today, Jesus personally reminds us his disciples not to hanker after rank, titles, and honours and curb our tendencies for power-mongering. Authority/ power exercised by Christian leaders, parents and superiors is not meant for domination, exploitation of the weak, taking advantage of their ignorance and powerlessness, but for ministering to their needs and working for their good. All the positions of authority for us are not meant only to fill our own pockets but also occasions to serve. People use power to fill their pockets not only with money but also with authoritarianism, power-conscious attitudes, pompous behaviour, cheap popularity, and desire for all types of titles and honours. Jesus’ teaching on the Christian meaning of power applies not only to political and religious heads/ leaders but also to tribal chieftains and village headmen too. After becoming Christian disciples the main concern of our tribal chiefs and heads of village communities is not supposed to be only to catch and punish social offenders in their community, but also to use their authority for reforming and reconciling those who have gone astray or deviated from the right path; or how to bring the offenders/ social deviants to the mainstream of society. Even if they need to follow the traditions/ customs/ rules of their tribal system and impose reasonable fines on social offenders as a social control measure, they need to show compassion at the end, especially when they admit their wrongdoing, and accept them into the community with clear words of forgiveness and reconciliation. If they could use their power in this way, they could render a wonderful service to the community by becoming ministers of reconciliation, peace and harmony, especially by bringing back the strayed ‘sheep.’
While exercising power, Christians are called to be totally different from worldly rulers. Jesus clearly tells his disciples that their ambition for power for ‘lording it over’ others is a gentile perspective, not at all Christian. In his time, most of the rulers abused their powers. Their main concern was not so much to work for the welfare of the citizens, but to exercise control over them; not so much to protect them but to get their support and allegiance for their own splendour or grandeur. The Gentile rulers used power as a tool of coercion and control to dominate others and secure their own power or control. In God’s Kingdom honour belongs to those who serve rather than those who exact service from others. Jesus says that the greatness of his disciples is measured by the use of power to serve people. In some languages, people speak of their leaders “dying” for power, and once those who are dying for it come into power, people say, they “get drunk” or intoxicated by power. The reason may be they see so many negative examples such as dictatorship, authoritarianism and excesses of power exercised by political, civil, ecclesiastical, religious, tribal and traditional village headmen. For common people, the word ‘leader’ in civil society and politics often connotes one who can wield a lot of power. As Jesus taught, it should not be so in the Church. Instead of seeking promotion and positions, Church leaders are called to render humble service either to the community or to the needy of human society. To be at the service of others entails sacrifice of personal ambitions for power and positions. I have heard many Church leaders highly appreciating Pope Francis’ simplicity and shining example of reaching out to the marginalized. But it is a different matter how many of them are really imitating his style of simplicity and leadership.
Both in today’s gospel as well as in John’s, Jesus calls his sacrificial death on the cross an act of supreme service to humankind. In Jn13:7 he says that the real meaning of his washing the feet of disciples – which is an example of humble service – will be understood only “later on,” that is, when he will sacrifice his life on the cross. In today’s gospel also he says that he has come not to be served but serve to the extent of paying the price of a sacrificial death (called “ransom”). In other words, he paid the price of sacrificial death on the cross to render an act of supreme service, namely salvation of humankind. This is the message we get: there is no service without sacrifice and every sacrifice we do out of love for others is a great service for them. Even our visit to a sick person in the neighbourhood is an act of service; of course at the cost of sacrificing our time.  As the world advances further and further, people say they have no time for any service outside their families. Since many do not want to sacrifice their time or find it painful, they say so as an excuse. It shows that the quality of our love is dwindling day by day and we are becoming more and more self-centred. Jesus always reminds us that we are called not to be served but to serve and spend ourselves in service of others. He came to give his life as the price to make us free. Like him, we are called to serve to the point of giving our life for the welfare of others.
In English language, a job is called a ‘service’ because of the service rendered to the organization or to human society through it. Though earning money by doing jobs is essential for living, according to Jesus’ mind Christian jobholders need to consider their jobs not only as a means to earn money and live a decent life, but also as a means to render service to the nation or human society. When we do our jobs only for money, even smaller tensions of responsibilities in jobplaces look great; but when we do them with a higher motive of rendering a valuable service to human society or building up a welfare society, even bigger tensions become bearable. When we travel alone to our workplaces (or while we go for wage-earning in rural areas), it is a very beneficial habit to bring these thoughts to our mind that we are going to work to make not only our life but also other people’s life happy and comfortable. We need to think about the wonderful opportunity the Lord has provided us to be at the service of society and nation. If not, the monotony and routine of daily work will eat us up!
5.  Response to God's Word
How do we exercise our power as parents, teachers, leaders, pastors, superiors, managers….? Do we use it for domination, exploitation of the weak, taking advantage of their ignorance and powerlessness or for service? Do we abuse our power to use it only to fill our own pockets, or to exhibit authoritarianism, power-consciousness, pompous behaviour or cheap popularity? What is our attitude towards our daily work/ duty/ job? Parents, teachers, and all Christians who exercise leadership roles must ask themselves, “Do I lord it over my children, co-workers and colleagues?” Priests and religious who have dedicated themselves to the service of the Church and the people must ask, “Am I here to be served or to serve and spend my life for the people entrusted to my care?” Those who have left their native place to become missionaries in another region have to ask, “Am I here to lord it over the local people, or to serve and learn from them?”
6.  A prayer
Lord, I offer you all my duties and responsibilities in my workplace and also in my family, society and the Church. Grant that I may use my power and authority in all these areas with an attitude of service and human welfare, knowing well that service done to humanity is service done to you. Deliver me from all type of unhealthy ambitions at the cost of others, and tendencies towards authoritarianism, abuse of power and seeking after honours and titles. Amen.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

28th Sunday of Year B


Twenty-eighth Sunday [Mk 10: 17-30]
14 October 2018
The Rich Man and the Danger of Riches
Readings: (1) Wis 7:7-11 (2) Heb 4:12-13
1.  Theme in brief
Christian attitude towards wealth
2.   Focus Statement
To gain eternal life it is not enough to avoid evil; we need to positively do good also by sharing our possessions with the needy, and place our total security not in wealth but in God alone.
3.  Explanation of the text
Though the story of today’s gospel is traditionally called “the Story of the Rich Young Man” (since Mt 19:20 calls him a “young man”), Mark calls him simply “a man” (10:17) who had “many possessions” (10:22); hence a rich man. The main themes of this Markan story centre around (1) Jesus’ instructions on the wrong attitude towards wealth that becomes a great obstacle to Christian discipleship as well as entry into God’s Kingdom, and (2) the greatly surpassing rewards of sacrificing possessions for the sake of God’s Kingdom (which is equated in this text with eternal life). [Later in the application we shall take only the first theme.]
Mark says that the rich man ran up to Jesus (10:17), probably to highlight his eagerness to get some enlightenment and peace of mind from the Master as he was seemingly in a confused state of mind. His gesture of kneeling before Jesus (10:17) shows his deepest respect for Jesus and his earnest desire to be taught by him. The question that troubled his mind was how to be happy for ever by inheriting eternal life (10:17). Surprisingly, in spite of having enough wealth and leading a pious life, he was not happy, and was seriously concerned about the way to attain lasting peace and happiness.
At first Jesus showed the way to eternal life by quoting mostly second part of the Decalogue (Ten Commandments, 10:19). The commandments quoted here are mostly negative (except honouring one’s father and mother), and deal with human or neighbourly relationships. Once again, there is a reminder here, if religious observances do not lead to genuine love-relationships with neighbours, one cannot attain eternal life. The rich man was not bluffing; his claim to have observed all these commandments since his youth (10:20) was really genuine.  Actually, he had never done any harm to anybody. But Jesus sternly told him, in spite of his faithfulness to God’s commandments, he lacked one thing (10:21). The question was whether he had done anything good. As a rich man he could have shared his wealth with the have-nots. Why he did not? From the fact that he was shocked (10:22) at Jesus’ advice to him to part with his wealth and share it with the poor (10:21), we can understand that his greed for wealth and total attachment to it was indeed very deep. That is why his face became gloomy and he went away grieving or sad (10:22). He realized that he could not inherit eternal life on easy terms by holding on to his possessions without any desire to share it with the needy.
Jesus, looking at him, loved him because he was genuinely trying to lead a virtuous life (10:21). Out of love for him Jesus wanted to change him from his comfortable life to a life of sacrificial sharing. But when he refused that invitation, Jesus must have been sad at the sight of a man in search of meaning in life but refusing to follow the path prescribed by him. This seems to be the only person in Mark’s gospel who wanted to follow Jesus but went away sadly without becoming one. Christ never forced or coaxed him to remain in his team against his will. Instead, he used this occasion to instruct his disciples about their attitude towards wealth.
The disciples were “perplexed” (10:24) and “astounded” (10:26) to hear Jesus’ views on wealth and found them too hard. The reason could be his views were totally opposite to the accepted views of the Jews. For them wealth and prosperity were a sign of God’s favour and blessings and a reward for a good conduct. Jesus compared the great obstacles the rich faced to enter God’s Kingdom – of course, in an exaggerated manner – with the practical impossibility of a camel going through the eye of a needle (10:25). When the disciples asked him in that case who could be saved at all, Jesus replied that reliance on God alone (not on wealth) could make impossible things possible (10:27). When Peter asked him about the reward for total renunciations, Jesus promised a hundredfold reward both in this life and in the age to come (10:29-30). According to him, the greatest reward Christian disciples would get in this life was the spiritual kinship they enjoyed with one another within their community, or their joy of becoming members of a universal (spiritual) family; and in the age to come eternal life with God (10:30). At the same time he forewarned them without mincing his words that they would have to pay the bitter price of persecutions too while on earth.
4.  Application to life                     
All of us have a desire for happiness and security. In today’s gospel we see a man who had enough wealth to make his life fully secure, but still was disturbed and unhappy. What was that “one thing” that he lacked? He could not come to terms that money in itself could not buy lasting peace and happiness. He lacked peace of mind precisely because he allowed his possession to possess him. He could not imagine accepting Jesus’ challenge to give his wealth to the poor and make God as his greatest treasure or possession, or love him alone with an undivided heart. As Christian disciples we are called to take God himself as our greatest treasure on earth and in heaven. We are called to “sell everything” joyfully (that is, to renounce/ sacrifice our false securities placed in wealth alone) to find this ‘greatest treasure’ or ‘precious pearl’ (cf. Mt 13:44). This rich man was satisfied with avoiding all the sins of commission, but did all the sins of omission, that is, he just avoided doing evil, but did not do anything good. Especially, since he was rich, he could have shared his riches (wealth) with the needy. Though he had so much wealth, it never entered his head that his wealth imposed on him a responsibility to be generous in sharing something of it with the deprived.
Like him we claim to be virtuous and religious by saying, “I haven’t done any harm to anyone!” But the point is whether we have done any good to anybody, especially by sharing our resources, talents and possessions with those who are deprived. To gain eternal life it is not enough to avoid evil; we have to positively do good also by sharing our goods with others. Former times when many of us were poorer than what we are now, and had fewer conveniences of modern equipments and gadgets, we had more time for God and neighbours; our relationship with both was much better. Now we are becoming strangers to one another in our neighbourhood. We have become less inviting, less mixing and less talking. If wealth and prosperity has spoiled our good and warm relationships, and has led to the deterioration of our service-mindedness or involvement in others’ welfare and closer communication with them, then Jesus is right in saying that it is as hard for such persons to enter the Kingdom as for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.
‘Selling all that we have’ could mean different things to different people. Of course, this teaching of Christ had motivated the early Christians to literally sell their lands and lay the money at the apostles’ feet which in turn was distributed to the needy (Acts 4:34-35). Surely, now Jesus does not expect from those who have social and family obligations to literally sell everything. To some, it may mean total renunciation of private property to follow the Lord (like those who join religious life), but to most of the disciples (having families to take care of), it could mean one or more of the following things: (1) a proper stewardship or management of wealth as per the gospel principles; (2) renunciation of excessive greed and attachment towards wealth; (3) sacrificing unhealthy friendships, bad influences, pompous entertainments, showy life-styles; (4) guarding against the danger of allowing our possessions to possess us; (5) following Jesus with an undivided heart by making him our greatest treasure; and (6) sharing not only our material goods, but also our time, talents, energies and wisdom. Jesus tells us: “Go and give these things to the have-nots, then, come and follow me.” Jesus offers us treasure which money cannot buy. It is up to us to accept or reject his offer as the rich man in today’s story did.
Wealth is not bad in itself and is a necessity. Jesus is not against wealth as such, nor is he against all the wealthy. He wants that we renounce the security and power that money and wealth provide in order to be free to follow him. The rich man in today’s story must have thought that riches were enough to make him happy and fulfilled. Actually, he went away sad. His attachment to wealth prevented him from following Jesus; he was not free to follow him. Jesus only precautions the rich to be on their guard against an attitude that considers wealth as everything. For the rich wealth can become a dangerous snare. They have to grapple with many temptations regarding just ways of earning and using wealth which the poor do not have to. If not on our guard our greed for wealth (1) could make us think of life and value people in terms of money; (2) it may make us think that there are no other valuable things in life that money cannot buy; ( for instance, when a young boy falls in love with a girl, he may think he can ‘buy’ that girl and vice versa, without thinking true love in marriage requires mutual adjustments and forgiveness of hurt feelings that even a billion dollars cannot buy); (3) it could make us arrogant and think everything in worldly terms and make us put our trust entirely on our wealth that could generate a sense of false security in us; (4) it could make us depend on the security that comes from money and forget to depend on God as the source our life and from whom all wealth comes; (5) it could make us trust more in our wealth than in God and regard it as the only source of happiness; (6) it could make us think of everything in terms of price rather than value; and finally (5) it could make us yield to a perpetual temptation to become more rich by depriving/ defrauding/ exploiting the poor, and become heartless towards their plight. Greed for money is like salt water: the more you drink, the thirstier you become. When one is heartless, one is also godless. Just as it is practically impossible for a camel to enter through the eye of a needle, so also too much attachment to wealth makes it impossible for one to experience God’s total love for us and block our entry to his divine life.
In the world, a person’s value and worth comes from the number and the latest models of cars, type of house, the amount of assets and shares, the amount of salary, the type of dresses and apparel one wears. In many societies, just like in Jesus’ time even today wealth is considered to be an auspicious sign of blessing coming from God. For Jesus wealth becomes a blessing only when it is shared with others; it becomes an obstacle to eternal life or God’s Kingdom when selfishly and greedily used for oneself. Unchecked greed for wealth is the cause of many troubles in families and in the world. We observe in some families that brothers and sisters are not in talking terms for years due to property disputes. Many children grow up with greediness sown into them by their own parents. Since parents failed to implant the virtue of sharing (especially in one-child families where children do not have other siblings to share with), it is doubtful whether such children will share their earnings with their old/ sick parents when require higher treatment. Those of us who are quite happy with faithfully observing all the commandments of God and all other religious duties (thus considering ourselves “religious-minded”), Jesus looks at with love, just as he looked at the rich man in today’s text, and says, “You lack one thing” (10:21). His gaze should touch our hearts and break the resistance we put to follow Christ’s way of thinking about right ways of earning and using wealth. The rich man found it too hard and walked away. Jesus asks us: “Will you also go away?”
There is a strong warning in this text for priests and the religious: According to studies conducted, in developing countries many of them come from economically weaker sections of society. If they are not on their guard, their state of life could become a means to climb the social ladder and reach the middle or upper middle class. Studies also show that many of those who join these states of life from the economically weaker sections of society tend to show less love for the poor. If this is true, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God……... Jesus asks you and me: Do you wish to go away with a gloomy face like the rich man? 
5.  Response to God's Word
What are our ‘possessions’ to which we are attached so much or even enslaved? Does this attachment lead us to love things more than persons? Does it make us treat human relationships in terms of price (how much advantage or benefit we can get from them) rather than their value? What is our attitude to money and wealth? Do we put our full trust and security in wealth rather than in God so that this attitude makes us go away sad like the rich man in today’s gospel? Are we willing to part with anything that might keep us from seeking true joy with Jesus?
6.  A prayer
Lord, you alone are our greatest treasure here on earth and in heaven. Grant that our natural attachment and greed towards wealth may not prevent us from giving our all to you. Free us from excessive greed for wealth or money so that we may be free to follow you. Amen.

Friday, 5 October 2018

27th Sunday of Year B


Twenty-seventh Sunday of Year B [Mk 10:2-16]
07 October 2018
Indissolubility of Marriage and Blessing Children
Readings: (1) Gen 2:18-24 (2) Heb 2:9-11
1.  Theme in brief
Marital fidelity and the children as models
2.  Focus Statement  
Since marriage is not a human invention but a divine institution, humans have no power to break the bond of union between spouses; hence, marital fidelity is willed by God, and children borne by marital union represent some of the qualities of God’s own Kingdom.
3.   Explanation of the text
Today’s gospel text is about Christ’s dispute with the Pharisees concerning divorce (10:1-12), and his comparison of children’s nature with that of God’s Kingdom (10:13-16).
The Pharisees wanted to test Jesus, just like the Satan tempted him in the wilderness, to see whether he was for divorce or against it (10:2). Hence they asked him whether divorce was permissible, since Moses allowed it with a stricture such as submitting a divorce notice (10:2-4). At the time of Jesus, there were contradictory opinions on Mosaic Law in Deuteronomy 24:1. What the Law says here is that a man could divorce his wife if he found about her something “objectionable” or some “indecency.” There were mainly two schools of thought in Judaism regarding the interpretation of this word “objectionable.” One school taught that a husband could divorce his wife only in the case of adultery; whereas another taught that any fault on her side, even a trivial one – like spoiling a dish while cooking, or making her voice heard in the next house while fighting – would be a sufficient ground for divorce. The Pharisees wanted Jesus to take one of these sides so that they could pitch him against the opposite camp. It is also probable that they wanted to create enmity between him and Herod that could lead to Jesus’ elimination as it happened to John the Baptist for criticizing Herod’s second wife’s (Herodias’) divorce with her first husband.
In Moses’ time, divorce and polygamy were so common that it was next to impossible to put a drastic end to such age-old practices. Divorce on trivial grounds was becoming so common that marriage had become such an insecure state for women. Hence, Moses regularized the customary laws of his days by asking men who wanted to divorce their wives to write a certificate of divorce (10:4). Moses only brought in some regulations to control its rate and make it difficult for men to divorce at their whims. Surely, it was not a general permission to anybody and everybody to divorce their wives. According to today’s text, Jesus told the Pharisees that Moses had allowed divorce not because God permitted it or willed it from the beginning of creation (10:6), but as a concession to reduce the evil effects of a hardened heart (10:5).
Jesus took the matter from Moses back to God himself, and from Mosaic regulations regarding divorce to God’s original intention of instituting marriage itself. In Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 we read that God's original intent when he created human beings as male and female (and not just only male and only female, 10:6) was that they could become "one flesh" (10:8). Since God joined one man with one woman from the beginning, and not two men with two women, no power on earth had the authority to disrupt his design or intention (10:9). In other words, since God himself was the originator and establisher of marriage, only he had the power to overrule (“put asunder”) what he designed originally (“joined together,” 10:9). Finally, Jesus stated that if any divorced man or woman remarried, both of them would be considered adulterers (10:11-12).
In the second part of today’s text, perhaps Mark wanted to connect marital fidelity with children – the greatest wealth of the family – by placing Jesus’ comparison of some of their traits with those of God’s Kingdom (10:14). People brought children to Jesus not for healing but to get his touch and blessing for them (10:16). By custom parents used to take their children to the Rabbis for a blessing. The disciple might have found children a nuisance or a disturbance; hence they forbade them sternly (10:13). But Jesus rebuked the disciples “indignantly” for forbidding the little children to come to him, because he said that the Kingdom of God belonged to such people (10:14). He said that whoever wanted to become a citizen of God’s Kingdom had to embrace it just like a child (10:15), because children represented its qualities much better than adults. Instead of telling children to imitate adults, Jesus tells adults to imitate the qualities of children; not to be childish but be childlike. Children are dependent on others, receptive, helpless to do so many things on their own and helpless to save themselves from any danger, and trust totally on those who care for them. Like little children we experience God’s total governance over us (technically, his Kingdom) when we express our inability to save ourselves and depend totally on his mercy.
4.  Application to life                     
Two conclusions can be drawn from Jesus’ teaching on marital fidelity and divorce: (1) All that is legal from the days of Moses to our own days in civil society need not necessarily be morally right. For example, abortion, divorce, euthanasia and homosexual marriage may be legal in some countries. A Christian who considers these things morally wrong has to follow his/her conscience. This requires a lot of courage to stand against public opinion, since there is a lot of social pressure on us to do something morally wrong because the State allows it or ‘everybody’ does it. As Jesus says elsewhere (Mk 12:17), we must give to the State what belongs to it (like taxes, welfare schemes and good governance) and to God what belongs to him as per his laws and the voice of our conscience.
(2) Jesus’ teaching in today’s gospel about the unity, indissolubility and fidelity in marriage needs to be worked out by the couples by modelling their love-relationship after the teachings and example of Christ. Quoting Genesis 2:24 Jesus says, according to God’s original plan of creation, married persons are no longer two but constitute “one flesh” (10:8). The term, "one flesh" suggests that the original purpose of marriage was not only sexual union, but also to live a life of most intimate union based on an enduring or lasting relationship. Marriage from the beginning of creation (as per God’s original plan) is indissoluble: a man and a woman by marriage become one in heart, mind, body and spirit. Jesus insists that the matrimonial union is so sacred that it cannot be violated at human whims. Marriage is not invented by humans; it is a divine institution. It is so inviolable that in the OT (cf. Is 54:5-8) God’s own union with his chosen people (Israel) and in the NT (cf. Eph 5:25-33) Christ’s own union with the Church are compared to marital union between a husband and a wife.

We learn from the above-mentioned explanation that divorce was only a concession to human weakness (hardness of human heart). Indissolubility of marriage is based on the original plan of God for humankind which was spoiled by human hardness of heart, and which Jesus wanted to restore. Thus he upheld the permanent and indissoluble character of marital union between a man and a woman by which they become one in heart, mind, body and spirit. However, not all marriages are made in heaven. Can I also say in the same tune: Not all priestly ordinations and final (perpetual) professions are made in heaven? If I would say it, it would be a heresy; but if Pope Francis would say it …….? There is a temptation in some societies/ regions to yield to the popular culture around there, and not to insist on faithfulness to God's original intention to join one man to one woman "until death do us part." Similarly, in priesthood and religious life also there is a temptation to dilute one’s consecration and commitment by blindly succumbing to worldly values.

When I conduct Marriage Preparation Courses for would-be couples, every now and then some young boys ask me how celibate priests like me could teach them about marriage! By asking this question, they must be thinking marriage means only sexual union. But it is a well known fact that more problems in marriage come up in the area of inter-personal relationships among spouses than in sexual sphere. And as far as inter-personal relationships are concerned priests/ religious men or women and married couples face the same challenges and difficulties. I learn a lot about inter-personal relationships for my religious life from married people – how to accept others, how to make adjustments in our differences, how to forgive our hurt feelings, how to make sacrifices for others’ welfare and how to communicate in a deeper level.

Today’s gospel-message challenges both married persons and the religious/ priests to be faithful unto death to the promises/vows they make before God and community. Humans as we are, fidelity and unity do not happen automatically. One of the most important ways of growing in them (both in married as well as religious life) is depth-level communication. Communication is an act of self-disclosure of what is going on inside us – a deeper sharing of our thoughts, feelings, likes, dislikes, plans, aspirations, hopes, fears and faith on a regular basis. This creates a communion of hearts. This type of union is established only when I make known to the other what is going on inside me, what worries me, what struggles are going on inside me.  By this I discover who the other person is; then I discover his/her love. For this I must choose or decide to communicate in a deeper level with the other. Even the complementary nature of the sexes is willed by God with a purpose when he created humans as male and female. Communication is a wonderful path to achieve respect for the differences of masculine and feminine traits, accept them and get enriched by them. Just like married partners, priests and the religious too face the same challenges/ difficulties when they work together as men and women in their ministries. Either in married state or in religious life, if we do not care at all to consciously cultivate complementarity and collaboration among us as men and women, does it not amount to “hardness of heart” mentioned by Jesus?

That is why unity or union of minds and hearts needs to be consciously cultivated by making daily decision of the mind to love as Christ loved us; that is to care for each other; to serve and not to be served, to be compassionate towards each other’s weaknesses (faults, needs, etc.); to forgive the hurt feelings; to make sacrifices of self-interests and one’s own likes/dislikes; to accept the other as he/she is; and to adjust with each other. When we knowingly fail to seriously put these principles into practice, sometimes due to hardness of heart, divorce in marriage, and unfaithfulness in consecrated life, become an escape-route and an easy way out. Then where is the commitment we made first? Only when we abandon our ‘sterile individualism’ and humbly communicate in trust and openness, our original commitment is automatically renewed. For this, a childlike trust and inter-dependence, highlighted by Jesus by putting the child at the centre stage, are necessary.

Jesus presents (or the evangelist places) the little children as models for God’s Kingdom in this context, probably because they were considered as the greatest wealth of the family. Children’s nature and attitudes are similar to some of the attitudes and qualities required to experience God’s governance over us. Children belong to the category Jesus favoured or made a preferential choice of concern in his ministry. In his days children had no legal status and could be bought, sold or exploited without any system of legal redress as we have today. For Jesus, they represented all those who did not have a legal status and were marginalized, such as lepers, women, tax collectors and slaves or servants. Today they are symbols of powerless, helpless, vulnerable, fragile, dependent and non-influential people or the little ones. Jesus insists that the least important, the most vulnerable and the marginalized should be brought to the centre stage, or brought from the margins of society to the centre.  Just like children we too have no right to God’s mercy and salvation, and are totally dependent on his free gifts. The Kingdom of God is a free gift given to whoever becomes childlike in this manner.
5.  Response to God's Word
Do we regularly spend time to share (communicate) each other’s joys, sorrows, hopes, fears, doubts, emotions and expectations? Do we realize that our failure to practice this principle could lead to breakage of marriage or separation of hearts? What can we do as married partners, or as consecrated persons, to consciously cultivate unity and harmony in spite of our differences? Do we welcome God’s Kingdom with humility, trust and dependence like little children? Do we try to bring those who are in the margins in various walks of life to the centre?
6.  A prayer
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.  Amen.